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Gallagher, Julia (2022) 'Making sense of the state: citizens and state buildings in South Africa.' Political Geography, 98 (102674).

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Drawing on the example of South Africa, the article explores how the state, an incoherent and opaque set of ideas, discourses and relationships, is made into a ‘thing’ by its citizens. It describes how citizens encounter the state physically when they see, hear, touch and smell its buildings and how these different sensory engagements generate thoughts and impressions that help them make and unmake the state-thing. The argument is made first theoretically, drawing on work from architecture, cultural geography and urban studies on sensory engagements with buildings; and then empirically through an analysis of South African citizens’ accounts of their engagements with state buildings, drawing on focus group discussions in urban centres and observations of state buildings in action. It finds that the state is reified through citizens’ ability to think and feel their way from material form to idea, using sight to produce abstractions and metaphors, and the haptic senses to connect to personal memory and fantasy. This layered account of the state, described locally through the analogy of the face-brick, constitutes the making and unmaking of the state-thing that illustrates a deep but ambivalent involvement in it.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Politics & International Studies
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions (Asia, Africa, Australia)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
ISSN: 09626298
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 15 May 2022 11:17
Funders: European Union

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